“End Of Watch” is one of the most intense films I’ve seen in years. Written and directed by David Ayer, who wrote the equally gripping “Training Day,” that starred Denzel Washington, this police drama follows two south central Los Angeles cops through chaos and mayhem, but also through their personal stories of their significant others and their colleagues.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña have been partners for so long, they’re like brothers-their colleagues would call them “Cowboys,” but more because of their machismo, not because they’re corrupt. Many of the citizens they’re charged with protecting would just as soon see them dead, but not all of them. These cops knows the shop owners, the drug dealers and snitches and realize that building some kind of relationship with all of them is imperative to the job.
The movie is shot almost entirely with handheld cameras, dashboard cameras and other “Point of View” techniques that draw the viewer in. One conceit used to pull this off is that the Gyllenhaal character is shooting footage for a class, so he and his camera are always present. If the quick cuts and shaky shots are initially jarring, one comes to get used to them before long.
Without spoiling an important plot-line, I’ll simply say that the day to day calls for these cops are not enough to quell their ambitions, and they get into a bad situation with a drug cartel that will propel the final act of the film into a ferocious battle that is scarier than anything you’ll see in a horror film. Scary because we care deeply about the characters, and because we know that this scenario is plausible.
The only thing not realistic about the film is the sheer number of big time “calls” they respond to every day. These guys draw their weapons more in one day than some real cops do in an entire career. But let’s be honest: A two hour film about cops not doing anything interesting wouldn’t make for a very good movie.
I want to take a moment to single out Michael Peña, an actor who’s been very good in a lot of movies, but who really hits a career peak with his performance here. His naturalistic style strikes the perfect tone. We really believe he is the guy he’s portraying. Of course, that’s the whole point, but think how rarely that actually happens. I hope he’ll be rewarded with awards nominations this coming winter.
A movie can only really make you feel something when you’ve forgotten, if only for a moment, that you’re watching one. Where this police drama goes right is lulling you into the daily grind of two cops until, finally, you care about them and you’re scared for them. It’s violent and bloody. It’s also one hell of a ride-along. Strap yourself in.
“End Of Watch” is rated “R” for violence, language and nudity. It’s playing in the following Area Theaters